Minister says McDonald’s drive thrus ‘made for social distancing’

It is "quite possible" for fast food outlets to reopen with drive-thru McDonald's services being "made for the social distancing situation", a government minister has said.

Environment Secretary George Eustice made the comments during the coronavirus daily briefing with journalists.

Asked about a number of fast food outlets reopening, Eustice said that the government had never ordered them to close in the first place.

He said: "I have had a number of discussions with food to go outlets – McDonalds, KFC, Costa Cofee and so on – it is the case when we did the lockdown we were quite explicit it didn’t cover takeaway food while clearly restaurants and pubs had to close."

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Instead, the government minister said there were "a number of reasons" companies decided to close including the reduced footfall in town centres, "issues with anxieties" among fast food staff and a feeling that "it wasn’t socially acceptable to stay open”.

Eustice continued: “Probably a McDonald's drive thru is made for the social distancing situation in that people do not leave their car they place their order and someone passes a bag of food to them through a kisok. It is quite possible for these venues to open safely – we never mandated that they should close."

Fast food outlets could also learn from supermarkets' social distancing measures he added.

Eustice nevertheless stressed the lockdown remained in place, saying: “It is absolutely essential people abide by the current restrictions stay at home and don’t succumb to the temptation to go out and about.

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"We will have to wait for what the PM has to say on Sunday but I think he is going to set out a roadmap of how we can evolve from the complete lockdown we have at the moment.”

He added: "We have to be realistic that there won't be any dramatic overnight change we have to be very very cautious."

And he said: "We are not out of the woods there are still many challenges with this virus we will be lving with this virus for some time to come."

Referring to reports of Scotland and Wales breaking from the UK government's policy on the lockdown, Eustice said "we work closely" with devolved administrations and "as far as possible we are all working together".

He added: "Any evolution of the current restrictions will be doe with the utmost caution. There isn't going to be dramatic change in the short term. We will make some changes where we think they can be considered and the PM will set out a timetable for other changes as well."

Asked about the rate of transmission – known as the R rate – National Medical Director for England Stephen Powis says it will "undoubtedly" vary from place to place.

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He said: "It will vary across geographies it will vary from time to time but the important thing is to keep it below one."

As of Friday, 1,631,561 coronavirus tests have now been carried out in the UK and more than 211,000 people have tested positive.

Eustice said 11,788 are in hospital with coronavirus, down from 12,688 the previous day.

Of those tested positive, across all settings, 31,241 have now died – an increase of 626 fatalities since yesterday.